Ember Williams leads an active life at Heller High. She covets a 4.0 GPA, runs track, and captains the debate team. On the surface, she looks like a high-achieving teenager with a bright future. But there are secrets at Heller High. Secrets that Ember wants to uncover and force into the light. The Red Court is a rumor, smoke vanishing into nothing under the fluorescent lighting of Heller High’s hallways. It’s rumored to be a secret society made up of female students, led by a mysterious ‘Queen of Hearts.’ They say the Red Court grants wishes. Desperate students can stuff a note in an unclaimedRead More →

Z Brewer, an author who is also an outspoken mental health and anti-bullying advocate, has written a young adult novel that validates the challenges that accompany identity exploration. Into the Real is an affirming story about a person living a broken life and willing to do anything to be free of constraints. Living in a fog of insecurity and confusion about sexuality and gender identity, seventeen-year-old Quinn experiences an oppressive feeling of loneliness. As Quinn navigates the fog of more questions than answers, more heartache than support, this genderqueer teen envisions a world in which life can be conflict-free and peaceful. However, to reach thisRead More →

Fans of Francina Simone’s novel Smash It! will likely also enjoy Robin Talley’s The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre. Both are written with “theater kids” in mind and with the message that nothing is perfect. Talley’s protagonist is cue-calling master Melody McIntyre who has her sights set on Broadway.  Mel has worked her way into the position of Stage Manager at Beaconville High School (BHS) in Massachusetts. Renowned for its theater program, BHS productions have not only won statewide awards but many of the program’s alumni have gone on to careers in the performing arts, both as actors and in technical roles. Mel is aRead More →

Given the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the world, Katharyn Blair‘s novel Unchosen is eerily relevant. Fans of Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfeld, Mercedes Lackey, and Brandon Sanderson will also cheer for the strong female characters and appreciate the engaging and action-packed story. In Blair’s dystopia, someone has knowingly or inadvertently unleashed the Crimson, a virus-like curse that causes the end of the world as we know it. Rather than wearing face masks, people wear blindfolds because looking into the wrong eyes is a death sentence. When infected, a person’s irises turn from their natural color to purple and then to red. That individual has only oneRead More →

Living in Brazil, Felipe cannot think about other people’s suffering because he has too many issues of his own, so being gay is a small detail in a truckload of crises. He is a shy, anxious, socially-challenged young man with low self-esteem, conditions which largely center around his obesity.  Given these challenges and his experiences with bullies, jumping to the worst-case scenario is Felipe’s specialty. Instead of having to endure this life in which he lost out in the talent lottery and his dad gave him the fat gene before abandoning him, Felipe wishes he were a superhero, one who could create force fields soRead More →

The Ninth Life by Taylor B. Barton is a book about hope, family, grief, friendship, romance, and identity. But most of all, it is a book about fighting for love—that raw, untamed, and messy emotion—and a book about the monstrosity of being human, which is both horrible and beautiful. As Caesar’s feline life is coming to a close, a life bursting with endless amounts of love, he can’t imagine living without Ophelia Matherson and her dog Missy. His life as Ophelia’s cat was a full one; it had taught him kindness and brought him friendship. In that life, he loved a girl who loved himRead More →

Set in New York City, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe follows the lives of two seventeen-year-olds as they navigate social life, their coursework at the prestigious Fine Arts Technical Education Academy (FATE), and college dreams. Philippe artfully captures the anxiety that Corinne Troy and Henri Haltiwanger experience in their efforts to find a place at their “dream schools,” Princeton and Columbia. Corinne is passionate, awkward, intense, and unpredictable while Henri is ambitious, popular, charming, and entrepreneurial. Both are good students who put an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves to succeed. Henri has a side hustle, walking dogs for wealthy New Yorkers throughRead More →

I suspect that many adolescent readers will find themselves in the pages of Francina Simone’s novel Smash It! The leading female in this book, which is dedicated to “theater kids,” seventeen-year-old Olivia James-Johnson considers herself a nerdy loser, a sad black girl with a “too curvy” body, and someone who does uncool things since she’s addicted to self-sabotage. Because she lacks self-confidence, she passes up doing what she wants because she’s afraid of being judged or looking like a clown. A talented flutist who loves dancing, she can find a beat and step into it with her whole body. “When I dance, I feel likeRead More →

Living in Nevada, Andre Rosario (Dre) is the opposite of smooth.  He’s flamboyant, out-spoken, and prone to hyperbole.  He’s also resentful that everyone is watching, judging, and offering snaky commentary about him and the sacrifices he has made for his father’s presidential candidacy. This openly gay young man is talented with monster makeup and photography, posting his creations online with a web presence called Dreadful Dressup. Dre’s best friend and partner in creating Dreadful Dressup is Mel—Emelda Vincente-Perez.  Mel is fiercely loyal, politically committed to her beliefs, and ready to change the world. Dre isn’t as interested in making so public a statement. When DreRead More →